Hospitality--It's a Cycle!

I am so proud of our congregation and the way it dove into a new project this week: a Women and Children's Shelter in our basement.  One week every quarter, our fellowship hall is transformed into a hospitality center, the Sunday School rooms becoming bedrooms for families.  Each week, there are about 70 slots to fill to make it all happen--the daily transportation, the meal-cooking, the homework-helping, the hanging out, the sleeping overnight, the laundry-doing, the coordinating.  Each day there are new surprises and dillemmas: a pregnant mother on bedrest does not show up, a child has an accident, a mother has an anxiety attack, another mother volunteers to cook for the group, prodding our volunteers to suddenly switch gears, too many drivers are scheduled so some go home empty-handed, etc., etc.

And through it all we learn what it means to be hospitable.  Mostly it means providing space for the other to be who they are-- warts and all, gifts and all.  Pre-conceived notions of how things should be dissipate in the nitty-gritty of how things actually are.  Patience and understanding grow ten-fold.  'Flexibility buds' burst forth into full blossom.  Life is lifted up as precious--every singe life, no matter how messy it happens, at the moment, to be.  

Gifts of shelter, food, warmth, play, acceptance, and love are showered on our guests.  But hospitlity is incomplete if this is where it stops.  The guests' gifts must also be received.  Hospitality is a one-way street if it merely gives something to another--it can remain lopsided, the powerful giving of their bounty to the powerless. This leaves the powerless...powerless. 

So with open arms we receive the gifts God pours out through the guests to the hosts.  The loving words.  The trust. The bright smile, the beautiful freckles.   The cooked meal, the eager conversation, the gift of a life's story told. The words of one guest: "When this week ends, we want to hide in the closet so we never have to say goodbye to you".  The words of a child: "Do we really have to go to a different church next week?  Your church is AWESOME!"  The words of a mother: "I tell my children, this isn't a shelter.  This is the house of the Lord.  And there is love in the house of the Lord".  These are gifts showered on us.  Hospitality is a cycle of gifts!

One of the guests asked me, "How did you decide to do this?"  I said, "We heard about the need, we realized we had the space, and we were eager to offer it."  When I see the host of gifts given and received, I see the face of our unconditionally-loving God.  God sees our need, has love enough, and offers it.  Over and over again.  God pours our grace, and we in turn pour out our gifts.  It's a cycle!


A Most Moving Offering

The best thing about being a pastor is the love.  I love my people, every one of them.  Last Sunday one of them moved me to tears with her beautiful offering.  This woman was born in Burundi and many years ago fled that country, with her husband, as civil war clashes between the Hutus and Tutsis killed thousands and made life there intolerable.  The family subsequently became "displaced persons", moving with many others as refugees to Rwanda, Congo, and finally Tanzania, before coming to the US a few years ago.

Many children were born along the way, as the family fled with babies on the back, babies in the womb, and belongings in their arms and on their heads.  In all, the family has 14 children, some grown, some left behind in Africa, and some living with them here in Seattle.  Financial stability has been outside their reach.  Water turn-off notices and other unpayable bills have dogged them constantly.  Working two jobs, the mother then returns home exhausted and tries to get enough rest before getting up with her children and then leaving for work again the next morning.

She is perhaps the bravest and most determined person I have ever met.  On Sunday she raised her hand during the public prayer time, and came to the front of the sanctuary singing.  In her best broken English, she thanked God that her sister has been brought to Canada, and that her children can go to school and get enough to eat now.  She points to us and says, "I love".  Then she points to the sky and says, "Jesus--I love.".  Then she gets down on her knees, looking up to the sky, then back up, three times.  She then brings a package to the Communion table and returns to her seat.

This was a Communion Sunday; the table was decked with the Bread and the Cup.  What was in her package?  Was it bread?  I had no idea what to expect. 

In a few moments it was time for the offering to be taken and the ushers brought the plates up and down the rows.  I decided to open the package for everyone to see.  I unwrapped it layer by layer--scarves, a tablecloth, and a small blanket--until I got to the core.  Inside that well-padded package were three neatly folded, vibrantly colored long African cloths worn as skirts.  One by one I unfolded them and draped them on the communion table. Under the cloths was an envelope bearing her name painstakingly printed.  I coud see through the thin white envelope that this was no small sum.

Meanwhile, the congregation watched the whole story unfold.  A most moving offering, testifying to this woman's unflinching belief that through it all-- through civil war, illness, genocide, and trudging from land to land while pregnant, God's providence and love was the only constant.  And she loves God back.


It Happened on the Way to Church...

Sunday at about 8:20 am I was driving to church and decided to turn on the radio.  I pressed the switch, and on came the sound of a nice older gentleman's voice.  For a fleeting second I thought, "That sounds a little like my grandpa", and then, a split second later, "WAIT!  That's my DAD!"  I hadn't heard that my Dad was going to be interviewed on NPR.  For the next five minutes, I listened to that familiar, yet far-away voice that I love so much.  If you would like to hear this brief intervew, you can find it here:

In case you are interested, let me just tell you this about my famous father.  I am very proud of him, and he has been a huge influence in my life.  He was one of the first college professors in the 60's to wear hiking boots to class, and started a trend.  He marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama in 1965.  He was written up in Time magazine and recently the New York Times.  He is a sought-after speaker in many countries, including Iran, Brazil, and China, and has sold more books in China than he has in the US.  He entered the academic world of philosophy at Harvard in the early 60's at a time when being a Christian was scoffed at in the academy, and over the years influenced many young Christian philosophers to engage in their discipline with their "heads held high" and their Christian beliefs brought fully into the discussion. 

For many years, I have kept my pride very low-key and under wraps, for fear of bragging about my Dad, which isn't cool.  But I have turned a corner, and I am going public for all to hear: I am very proud to be the daughter of my witty, wise, and wonderfully famous father, Alvin Plantinga!